A US-born Swedish singer looks to spread the spirit of Christmas

Fifteen years after a record-breaking Christmas concert in Stockholm, American-born Swedish opera singer Barbara Hendricks is set to spread the spirit of her “favourite time of year” in a novel repeat performance to be simulcast across the country, contributor San Malmström explains.

A US-born Swedish singer looks to spread the spirit of Christmas

Singing in the choir at Christmas meant everything to the minister’s daughter from a small town in Arkansas in the United States. That spirit continued to move renowned soprano Barbara Hendricks, whether she was on an opera stage somewhere in the world, broadcasting network TV holiday specials or recording one of her dozens of albums.

With the release of her latest Christmas album, “Shout for Joy – Spiritual Christmas” Hendricks recalls some of the spirit that inspired her to pursue a singing career in the first place.

“Christmas is my favorite time of the year – all about values, solidarity and peace that go way beyond religion,” she explains.

“We are a lazy species and have to constantly work at staying on the right road. I work hard to instill in my own family the essence of Christmas. And I can send that message directly through music.”

Hendricks had originally planned on becoming a doctor or lawyer, first graduating with a degree in chemistry and mathematics. But as she was completing her studies, she was discovered by chance at age 19 and invited to the Aspen Music School.

Eventually, she studied opera at the renowned Julliard music school in New York, where she studied with mezzo-soprano Jennie Tourel.

From there, Hendricks’ career took off, taking her to opera houses from San Francisco to the Met, La Scala, Covent Garden and just about every opera stage around the world.

In the meantime, she moved to Europe and married a Swede, having since taken Swedish citizenship.

Hendricks is quick to praise her adopted homeland, calling Swedes “the most generous people” who “never give up”, but she admits that it can be hard to find acceptance as an outsider.

“The Swedes do not make it easy to understand them or their traditions. You must be invited in to understand those traditions, the Swedish connection to nature and the changing seasons. Getting acquainted may be difficult, but once you are invited in, that loyalty is never broken,” she says.

While Hendricks’ feelings about Christmas are heavily influenced by her childhood memories from the United States, she says she finds many parallels to her present-day celebrations of Christmas in Sweden.

“My best Christmas memories are at my grandparent’s farm. We were poor and they were subsistence farmers – only living from what they could grow themselves. Suddenly at Christmas, a sausage would appear, aunts would make pies and cake and it seemed a banquet!” she recalls.

“That sense of community in those important days in the kitchen, traditional singing, being together and lit candles are also part of the Christmas traditions in Sweden.

“It is a time I felt the most love – a time of childhood innocence that I still carry with me. That spirit and warmth that I try to replicate today.”

Hendricks’ latest attempt to bring the spirit and warmth of Christmas to a Swedish audience takes place on Saturday, December 18th as she takes the stage for a Christmas concert at Stockholm’s Engelbrekt Church.

The concert, which will be hosted by actor Michael Nyqvist of the Swedish Millennium-film trilogy, will also feature the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble and the Drottningholm Quartet, which also played on the recently released Christmas album.

Additional performers include the Nacka Children’s Choir and Engelbrekts Chamber choir, as well as several special music guests such as blues guitarist Eric Bibb and jazz bass player Georg Riedel, perhaps best known for scoring the Astrid Lindgren movies.

In addition, the show will be simulcast live to 43 movie theatres throughout Sweden, allowing music fans across the country to experience Hendricks’ musical Christmas magic without having to travel to Stockholm.

By performing songs ranging from old Negro spirituals to jazzed-up renditions of modern holiday classics from both sides of the Atlantic, Hendricks hopes her 2010 Christmas concert will help remind listeners of the important of spirituality.

“We need spirituality in our lives. And that is not to be confused with religion and church because then you get into other issues. There is a need for meditation. There is so much noise in our world that fear easily overtakes the voices of wisdom and reason,” she explains.

“My task is to be of service to and the humble instrument of art. We speak to one another in art, take it in and it reaches us on a deeper level than stopping at our brains. The first note of a Schubert quartet makes me weep. Will always make me weep.”

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What are the best concerts in Sweden this autumn?

Now that Sweden has lifted its audience restrictions for public events, The Local's Paul O'Mahony lists his recommendations for the best gigs to attend over the coming months.

Crowd at a music concert in Debaser, Stockholm
Crowds return to Stockholm venue Debaser after pandemic restrictions on events were lifted. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Sweden’s musicians, concert promoters and venue operators have struggled to varying degrees through the pandemic. One surefire way to help get them back on their feet is to give organisers and artists the financial reassurance they need by pre-booking concerts. 

Of course these recommendations only apply if you feel safe attending large events; remember that you should stay home and take a Covid-19 test if you experience any symptoms that could be linked to the virus, even if vaccinated. And make sure to check with organisers if there are any specific coronavirus requirements you need to be aware of. 

Coming up: top gigs in Sweden over the next few months 

As a regular gig-goer, live music is the one thing I’ve missed most over the past year and a half. So it is with some excitement (and, I’ll admit, a degree of trepidation) that I prepare to go see Norwegian band Pom Poko this Friday at Hus 7 in Stockholm. Their melodic art-punk album Cheater sparked the year into life on its release in January. They’re also playing Plan B in Malmö on Saturday night

Plan B is also the venue when Squid hit Sweden with a thrilling dose of post-punk on October 15th. Tickets remain available for the show at the time of writing (an absolute steal at 120 kronor), though that’s sadly not the case in Stockholm where their October 16th gig at Melodybox sold out a long time ago. (Although you can sign up to be added to a waiting list). 

Another artist well worth checking out in October is Gothenburg guitarist and singer Amanda Werne, better known as Slowgold. Her live shows are great and she is embarking on a Swedish tour on October 8th. 

Emma-Jean Thackray, one of the UK’s most interesting jazz artists, will be at Fasching in Stockholm on October 15th

For the best kind of sonic assault, Anna von Hasswolff’s band Bada are scheduled to play in Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg in late October. 

Have any of you ever seen Gothenburg electronic veterans Little Dragon live? I haven’t but might check them out in November when they swing by Malmö, Stockholm and Gothenburg

Amason are also heading out on the road for a Scandinavian tour in November. If you haven’t heard Amanda Bergman’s voice in a live setting before this will be a treat. 

The inimitable Sibille Attar released her superb second album A History of Silence at the start of the year and she’s finally getting the chance to play her eighties-inspired gems live at Slaktkyrkan in Stockholm on November 18th

Cassandra Jenkins long lurked in the background as a musician in touring bands for people like Eleanor Friedberger and Purple Mountains. But this year’s album An Overview on Phenomenal Nature has really established her as an artist to be reckoned with in her own right. She’s coming to Södra Teatern in Stockholm on November 26th

Always popular in this part of the world, The Jesus and Mary Chain return to Sweden for dates in Stockholm and Gothenburg at the end of November

Wry Finland-Swedish indie outfit Vasas Flora och Fauna have some of the funniest (Swedish) lyrics and catchiest tunes around. They’ll be in Stockholm and Gothenburg the first weekend of December

UK experimental rockers Black Midi are also playing Stockholm and Gothenburg on December 4th and 5th. So prepare to travel if you want to catch both them and Vasas Flora and Fauna. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Bob Hund’s annual ‘week 48’ show also takes place on December 4th. But that has been sold out for ages so no decisions to make there. It is also worth noting though that Sweden’s hardest working band has also written a musical that’s going to be performed in Helsingborg (October-November) and Gothenburg (November)

Bonus: For a post-Christmas pick-me-up try to get down to Little Simz at Slaktkyrkan on January 14th if you’re in Stockholm. The UK rapper’s new album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is one of this year’s best releases. 

Selected artists playing Sweden in 2022: Henry Rollins, Sarah Klang, Yann Tiersen, Mogwai, Pearl Charles, Wolf Alice, Lloyd Cole, Lord Huron, Future Islands, Josh Rouse + Vetiver, Tricky, Snail Mail, Porridge Radio, Aldous Harding, Shame, The Kooks, The War on Drugs, Echo and the Bunnymen, Kings of Convenience, Fontaines D.C., Alex Cameron, Lucy Dacus, The Divine Comedy, Mdou Moctar, Iggy Pop, Chubby and the Gang, Sparks, Belle & Sebastian, The National, Sharon Van Etten, Teenage Fanclub, Tindersticks, Suede, Viagra Boys, Pavement. 

For bigger arena shows, Ticketmaster covers a lot of the bases. Big-name acts with gigs in the offing include Ed Sheeran, Zara Larsson, Whitesnake and, lest we forget, ABBA

And that’s just a fraction of what’s going on. Tour schedules are busier than ever now that artists are finally getting back on the road. To keep track of what gigs are coming up I can recommend checking in with Luger, FKP Scorpio, and Live Nation. Follow your favourite venues too: sometimes they cut out the middleman and do their own booking and promotion. I also use the Bandsintown app, which comes with the added bonus of receiving messages from your favourite artists which let you pretend to be their friend. 

Enjoy the gigs, and stay safe! 

Paul O’Mahony is editorial product manager at The Local. In his spare time he plays the best new indie and alternative music as host of the Signals show on Nerve Music.